Tracing the history of the convent in Teplice


The exhibition is in the newly renovated east wing of the manor house, a part of the original Benedictine convent. The queenly convent in Teplice was founded by the second Queen of Bohemia, Judith of Thuringia, around the year 1160.

Convent in Teplice

Contemporary written sources refer to the convent´s establishment only once and without giving an exact date. It was founded sometime between 1152/1153 – 1167, affiliated to the convent of Benedictine nuns at St George’s church at Prague Castle. The chronicle of Vincentius attributes the foundation to Judith, the second wife of Vladislav II. Judith was born in Thuringia into the influential house of Ludowings, but the precise year and place of her birth are not known. Her father Ludwig I achieved the title of landgrave, her brother Ludwig II (“the Iron”) became the brother-in-law of King and later Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa. When Vladislav was granted a royal crown in 1158, Judith became the second ever queen of Bohemia. The royal couple had two sons and a daughter – one of the sons was to become the future Bohemian King Přemysl Otakar I, the other Moravian margrave Vladislav (III) Jindřich. Their daughter Richsa married Henry of Austria.

After his abdication in 1172, the aged Vladislav went to live with his wife at her Meerane estates in Thuringia. He died there two years later, but there are no records of where Judith spent her widowhood or when she died. However, two centuries later a reference to Judith’s burial in Teplice appeared in the so-called chronicle of Pulkava. It is not clear, however, where the information originated in and consequently what its reliability is.

During archaeological excavations of the basilica in Teplice in 1954-1957 a female grave was uncovered in the basilica’s north chapel. In 2002 a prominent Czech anthropologist Emanuel Vlček subjected a skull from the excavated grave to an anthropological analysis, ascribing it, though with not complete certainty, to the very same Queen Judith. According to the analysis report the skull belonged to a very old woman, but in a very good physical condition. As yet, a positive identity of the buried person remains unconfirmed. The person was buried without any grave goods and under a stone slab adorned with only a simple engraved cross, but no text. Besides, archaeologists were unable to determine the actual time of the burial by archaeological means, and so it is impossible to give a more accurate date than sometime within the period of the convent’s existence.The convent was founded at a hot water spring (today’s Pravřídlo) at a place where an earlier rural settlement with the chapel of St John the Baptist had already existed. The convent’s basilica itself was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. When established, the convent was endowed with about 29 villages and later the convent itself either founded or bought further 8 villages. An art-historical survey shows that the convent’s basilica was completed around 1200 with the east and west wings some thirty years later.In 1278 on their return from the battle at Moravian Field, where the Bohemian king Přemysl Otakar II had died, troops of Brandenburg, Meissen and Thuringia plundered the convent’s estates. The convent’s buildings were probably damaged at that time. In the years that followed the convent experienced financial difficulties and in 1282 was compelled to sell the villages of Hrob and Verneřice to the Cistercian monks in Osek (about 12 kilometres NW of Teplice).

After a period of stagnation, in which 2 more villages (Soběchleby, Maršov) had been sold, the convent’s economic situation increased considerably again in the 2nd half of the 14th century. The convent founded a new chapel (with Emperor Charles IV’s consent), enlarged the number of altars and altar-keepers and supported students and the poor through finances gained from private donations and their own resources. Furthermore, King Václav IV also endowed it with the village of Řetenice. At the turn of the 14th century the convent underwent a costly and extensive rebuilding in the Gothic style. Today the most conspicuous surviving parts of this building phase are the excavated remains of the cloister.The settlement at the convent gradually grew into a market village. It was first referred to as a town (oppidum) in the 1373 charter of Emperor Charles IV The convent greatly benefited from the support of many prominent local nobles, burghers and churchmen during the second half of the 14th and early 15th centuries. Their endowments, usually financial, became the main source for the convent’s growth. Many of these benefactors´ names are known from their endowment deeds, still many others are not evidenced at all. Nevlas of Rvenice, buried in the convent’s basilica, was one of the latter. The grave containing a skeleton of a 168-cm-tall man lying under a grave stone with the text HIC IACET NEULAZ DE LACV („Here lies Nevlas of Rvenice”) was unearthed during archaeological excavations between 1954 and 1957.The convent was seized by the Hussite troops in 1421, but on account of a „kind welcome” received from the nuns (as Vavřinec of Březová wrote in his chronicle) they didn´t set it alight. The convent thus represents only one of a few monastic buildings that have survived the plundering of the Hussites. The nuns are thought to have accepted the Prague articles in order to save their lives (the famous Hussite programme included communion in both kinds, free preaching of the word of God, punishment of capital sins, dispossessing the Church of its secular property). The convent was pillaged again five years later (this time by crusaders) when the battle at “Na Běhání” near Ústí nad Labem took place in 1426. It entered the most difficult period of its existence then. Both defence and supplies were failing with the nuns soon lacking vital provisions. The last reference to the abbess meeting her official obligations was about 1435, but by then the whole demesne was virtually at the hands of an ex-Hussite commander Jakoubek of Vřesovice.

The convent, except for the basilica, was probably rebuilt after that to house a secular residence (“a castle” or a “stronghold”), nevertheless, the ownership rights of the Benedictine nuns were still respected for some time afterwards (at least till 1462 or 1467). Documentary evidence together with certain architectural anomalies found during archaeological excavations suggests that there might have been attempts to re-establish the convent. However, the situation at that time wasn’t favourable to the intention, so the last nuns from Teplice spent the rest of their lives at St George’s convent at Prague Castle.

After the nuns had left the convent, its ownership passed through hands of several nobles. As early as 1463 King George of Poděbrady transferred Teplice to his wife Johanna of Rožmitál. The convent by then had been already partly converted into an aristocratic residence (documentary evidence refers to it as a castle, a manor house or a stronghold). Johanna, who died in 1475, bequeathed Teplice to her son Hynek of Minsterberg, thereafter it belonged to the Fictum family between 1480-1508 and successively to Albrecht Libštejn of Kolovraty, Anna of Kováň and her sons Jan and Bernard of Valdštejn between 1508-1524. The brothers Jan and Bernard of Valdštejn finally accomplished to obtain hereditary ownership of Teplice, which was a definite end to any possibility of the convent’s re-establishment. Frequent changes of owners were common until 1543 and no significant alterations were carried out at that time beside the most necessary repairs.It wasn’t until Volf of Vřesovice took possession of Teplice (he owned the estate between 1543 and 1569) that any major building activity took place here. He started to build a manor house (the so-called New Manor) while pulling down the former convent church and re-using the building material thus obtained to erect a chapel. After his death in 1585, Radslav Vchynský (Kinský) bought Teplice and continued with reconstruction works, completing the principal building of the manor house in the Renaissance style and considerably rebuilding remaining parts of the convent (the so-called Old Manor). A vegetable garden, a park with several ponds and a “summer house” (Kolostuj’s turrets) were also set up at the residence. After Radslav’s death, the whole estate passed to Vilém Vchynský, later a close collaborator of Albrecht of Valdštejn with whom he shared his violent death in Cheb in 1634. Having confiscated the manor of Teplice, the emperor gave it straightway to his field marshal Jan Aldringen as a reward for his military service. Descendants of Jan’s heirs, Clary-Aldringens, retained the manor house till 1945. The Clary-Aldringens added many outbuildings, many of which were demolished in the late 18th century in order to enlarge the park. Finally, a building of a theatre was added to the manorial complex in the 19th century.

The convent´s architectural development

Remains of the convent in Teplice represent a unique example of Romanesque architecture in the northwest Bohemia or elsewhere in the Czech Republic. Several years of archaeological excavations and building research have revealed two two-storied Romanesque wings incorporated in the later-built structures and the basilica whose remnants had survived beneath the surface of the manor-house courtyard. Both architectural details and the overall disposition of the convent correspond with the mid-13th century Late Romanesque style. Dissimilarities are apparent at some architectural details resulting probably from a long period of time it took to complete the convent´s construction. The basilica itself bears a remarkably close resemblance to St George´s basilica at Prague Castle, differing only in the reverse positioning of towers. The Gothic building phase is not known to its full extent yet. Building research brought evidence of stone-built cloisters, the south wing and certain alterations of the basilica in this phase. Since the architectural details of this period are all worked in the same way and same style, they seem to have been made over a short period of time and applied according to a single well-thought-out project.Most of the monastic houses that had been destroyed during the Hussite wars later vanished completely with their buildings brought apart for building material. The ones that survived usually lost their original appearance to later, mostly Baroque, rebuildings, often preceded by large-scale demolitions of earlier structures. During its conversion to a castle and later to a manor house, the convent in Teplice, with the exception of the cloisters, escaped the usual practise. Although the former basilica was pulled down after 1549, no other demolitions followed. Today, thanks to a set of fortunate circumstances that led to a series of archaeological excavations and architectural surveys, public can admire the 800-year-old relic exceptionally well-preserved.

Archaeological excavations

Lack of documentary evidence left the task of reconstructing the history of the convent to archaeology. It was archaeological excavations that brought more detailed evidence of the convent´s building development and its building phases.
As early as before mid-20th century it was assumed, that the convent’s location was to be looked for somewhere within today´s manor-house precinct. However, there was no evidence to support the assumption. In 1951 though, a tiny crack in the plaster on the east wing façade revealed typical Romanesque masonry. Two years later, fragments of Romanesque basilica were uncovered beneath the surface of the manor-house courtyard. Consequently a large-scale excavation began in the courtyard in 1954 with the aim to locate other remains of the convent. By 1957 remnants of the basilica, a part of the cloisters and a section of the town wall were uncovered. Besides, the excavation brought a scarce evidence of an 11th-12th century settlement on the site, i.e. before the convent had been built.When the 1950´s excavation was over, archaeologists turned their attention elsewhere. However, in 1990 during the reconstruction of sewerage and water supply system in the manor-house courtyard, two graves were discovered. The find happened on the site of the cloister´s former north wing, which had been adjacent to the southern wall of the basilica. One of the graves was completely destroyed by the building works, the other, 2-metre-deep, was left mostly intact, which enabled archaeologists to record the find and expertly remove contents of the grave. The find consisted of a female skeleton laid in a tomb of precisely chiselled-out sandstone slabs and an iron circle made out of a big nail that was placed at her right hip. The grave might have belonged to a nun or an abyss in the early years of convent.

A rescue excavation was carried out in 2003 in advance of the planned renovation of the so-called Romanesque wing. During the excavation a section of the cloisters, fragments of the manorial brewery´s facilities and a south-eastern corner of the Romanesque wing were unearthed. The excavation also brought further evidence of the earlier settlement (late 11th – mid 12th centuries) - a cultural layer, some postholes and various pits with a number of finds including earthenware sherds as well as a fragment of a coin of Vladislav I (dated to 1120-1125).
Renovation of the building started in 2006 together with a salvage excavation in some selected parts of the building´s interior. Because of many significant discoveries, the excavation works continued also in 2007-2008. Repairs of the water supply system brought archaeological activities also to some other parts of the manor-house precinct. The 2006-2008 excavations yielded many discoveries, of which the most significant were key parts of the Gothic cloisters, fragments of partition walls of both Romanesque and Gothic interiors and an abundance of architectural details.
The excavation in the interior of the so-called Romanesque wing uncovered a minor fragment of masonry. An extensive damage to the archaeological situation initially impaired the dating process. Only towards the end of the excavation works it was confirmed that a stone-built structure had existed before the convent’s east wing. Nevertheless, only further excavations can ascertain whether this structure was erected before the convent as well.

Romanesque wing

The Romanesque wing of the convent in Teplice is the best preserved part of the original convent. There was a chapter house (its remains can be seen in the exhibition), a sacristy, a library, as well as a nuns´ working room and a room with a toilet downstairs and a nuns´ bedroom upstairs. There was a door in the latter providing a direct access to the basilica. The building had stood for about 150 years unaltered, only in the 2nd half of the 14th century the east wing of the cloisters was added. After the convent had perished in the 15th century, the Romanesque wing was converted into a dwelling and a new building was added on to its western side. The whole structure suffered from a devastating fire in the 16th century, during which all the 13th-century wooden constructions (i.e. ceilings and floors) were destroyed. After a thorough reconstruction the building was used as a brewery. During the 17th century it was rebuilt several times, though all the building work seems to have been carried out only in the interior. Since 1696, the Romanesque wing was used as a granary. Between 1787 and 1826, the manor house and the adjacent garden were subjected to a great change inspired by the English concept of blending architecture with landscape. Given a new look in the Romantic neo-Gothic style, the Romanesque wing was turned into a residence for manorial clerks. From 1947 onwards the manor house accommodated a museum with the Romanesque wing used as staff premises. Now there is an exhibition on the ground floor and offices on the first floor of the building.

Benedictine Order

St Benedict of Nursia founded a monastic community at Monte Cassino in south Italy in 530 AD and provided it with a set of rules of communal life, the Regula Benedicti. According to a legend the female branch of the Order was established by St Scholastica, Benedict´s twin. The brother and sister were born around 480 AD in Nursia in the mountains of Umbria.
Early in her life Scholastica entered the convent of Roccabotte near Subiako, east of Rome. Several years later she joined a community at Monte Cassino, not far from where her brother lived and where he had founded a new monastic order. The twins used to meet once a year for spiritual discussions. At one of those meetings in 542 AD Scholastica asked her brother to stay longer and talk to her about God and joys of Heaven, but Benedict refused. Scholastica then prayed to God for help and it is said that God heard her out by creating heavy rains. Because of flood Benedict was forced to stay with his sister for three more days. On the third day Scholastica suddenly died and Benedict saw her soul in the likeness of a dove ascending into heaven. He buried the deceased into a grave at Monte Cassino that he had already prepared for himself. Scholastica was beatified as a patron saint of Benedictine nuns, being depicted in a black habit usually with a dove in her hand. She is considered to be a guardian against rain and lightning. Her name, Scholastica, derives from Latin and means "of school, belonging to school, a teacher”, but also “a pupil”, metaphorically, “school wisdom” or “a friend of sciences”.
The Rule of St Benedict was the predominant norm for monastic life up till High Middle Ages. The order had been reformed several times, however, in the 11th-12th centuries new orders that turned away from St Benedict´s Rule were established. Beginnings of the convent in Teplice fall within the period when Benedictine foundations were no longer common. The reason for this is looked for in papal schism and Vladislav’s sympathizing with the antipope, a great supporter of Benedictines.